I can’t believe it but it’s only 2 weeks until Her Mother’s Secret will be in stores! So I thought it might be a good time to start sharing something more about the book. Over the next 4 weeks, I’ll be running a series of posts which take you behind the book covers, and tell you a little about where the idea for Her Mother’s Secret came from, the research process, the writing process and much more. This week is all about the inspiration behind the book.
For me, it’s never one thing that inspires a book. It’s always a few things, coming together suddenly, that make me think a story might be lurking within.
Mabel and Her Lashes
Many of you might know that, many years ago, I worked for L’Oreal Paris as Marketing Manager for the Maybelline brand of cosmetics. One of the apocryphal stories about the brand that everyone who worked there heard many times over was that of the lovely Mabel. Mabel had a date one night with a man she rather fancied. She wanted to impress her date and her brother, watching her attempts to beautify her face, mixed her up some lampblack and Vaseline and suggested she try it on her lashes. Mabel did.
What nobody knows is how she fared on her date that night. But what we do know is, that night in 1917, the first mascara was created. Lash-Brow-Ine, it was called for a short time, before becoming the amalgamation of Mabel’s name and Vaseline that we know as Maybelline.
I loved that story and it stuck in my mind. And so, when it came to thinking about what to write about after I finished A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, it seemed only natural that I go back to the early twentieth century and write about the birth of the cosmetics industry.
Everybody Has an Opinion About How Much or How Little Makeup We Wear
I did wonder at first if the idea for Her Mother’s Secret was just a bit too frivolous. After all, I’d just been writing a book about a woman trying to do good by becoming one of the first female obstetricians. Makeup seemed a bit lightweight in comparison.
But the more I researched, the more I realised that this story was far from frivolous. In the early twentieth century, women who wore makeup were judged harshly by society. Cosmetics like rouge and mascara were deemed suitable only for movie stars and ladies of the night, and only a woman with loose morals would be seen in daylight hours wearing them. In 1917, a sales clerk was fired from Macy’s for wearing rouge to work.
And I began to think: isn’t it interesting how, one hundred years later, women are still judged for how much or how little makeup they wear? It’s still seen to be something that is everybody’s business, something that society and the media feel they have a right to comment on.
This feeling crystallised when I read an article in the Atlantic Monthly from 1920 where they’d asked four people to write an article on the state of the youth of the day. The first to have his say was “Mr Grundy” who declared that women who wore makeup and rolled hose and who danced to jazz music were barbarous. Therefore, he said, men must retaliate by using barbarous methods to subdue these women. Yes, that’s right, a national news magazine allowed a man to exhort others into violence against women for the crime of wearing rouge.
I realised then that my book idea was, once again, about women fighting against society for their rights. It wasn’t a frivolous idea. And it wasn’t necessarily even an idea that only had historical relevance as the politics of makeup is very much a contemporary issue.
Leo, my heroine, was born out of this research. She was strong and she was brave and she was a joy to write.
Armistice Day and Sutton Veny
The other idea that intersected with this came about from watching the ABC News one Anzac Day. They ran a story from a town in England called Sutton Veny. The story was about a soldier who’d been injured three times in the Great War, had been hospitalised in Sutton Veny to recuperate, had recovered and returned to fight, and had then died in the hospital at Sutton Veny on Armistice Day from Spanish flu.
The tragedy of that shocked me. That this man had gone to war, survived serious wounds and then on the very last day of that war he’d died from a virus was so sad. It made me wonder what it would have been like to love that man. To think he’d made it, and to then discover that he hadn’t.
As I researched the Spanish flu, I discovered it had killed more people than had died in the First World War, that it was the most devastating epidemic the world had ever seen. These two horrific events happening one on top of the other would change people forever. And I knew I wanted to write about a woman who had been changed irrevocably by what happened in 1918.
Three Women …
Also, in the recesses of my mind, was a group of three women. Three women connected by one event. Their connection was murky at first but the women themselves came onto the page like gifts from the muse. Especially Faye, Leo’s nemesis, who, even though she’s something of a villain, was a character I loved writing as I know what was hiding in her heart. I hope you love reading about all of them.